Point/Counterpoint: JetBlue's Apology Isn't Enough

Consumerist HQ responded positively to jetBlue’s apologies earlier this week. Understandable: Airline CEO David “Mortified” Neeleman’s words felt sincere, and it was good to hear him apologize for the unfortunate imprisonment of hundreds of people inside their airplanes for hours on end last week. It’s tough to apologize, and they did it. Hats off.

But as the guest blogger, I say hold on: Apologies are nice, but check out the fine print in the new policy (pdf), and all isn’t as great as it seems at first glance:

• The policy promises that the airline won’t keep you stuck in a plane for more than 5 hours, and that they’ll pay amends for delays. But they’ll ONLY pay if the cause of the delay is “due to a Controllable Irregularity.” What’s a controllable irregularity? They’re not saying.

• There is only one way to get cold, hard cash from jetBlue: If they kick you off a flight because they overbooked. They’ll pay you $1000. Great, right? JetBlue doesn’t overbook. Now, that’s a customer friendly policy, but the $1000 is a red herring. In all of 2006, only 126 jetBlue customers were ever denied boarding. So don’t plan to make the rent by getting booted from a flight. It’s a promise that sounds better than it really is.

• For all other delays, if the airline admits fault, your compensation is in the form of a voucher, not cash. Vouchers suck. Only around 10% of them ever get cashed. They’re the moral equivalent of mail-in refunds, and around here, them’s fightin’ words.

So, yes, jetBlue apologized. Thanks for that. But don’t believe the hype. MARK ASHLEY

(Photo: Cybele May at Candy Blog)


Edit Your Comment

  1. Coronagold says:

    Aww, the Gawker photo changed before my eyes. (sad)

    At first it showed the front loading door leading into clear blue sky, which was a more fitting photo of the situation. Now it shows the actual interior of the plane. Booooriiiing! Go back to the original Photoshop!

  2. Coronagold says:

    I think they changed it back while I was typing.

    Batman – “Hmmmmm…..”

  3. mullenite says:

    *I think a controllable irregularity would be something they can fix, obviously. For example if they get to the gate and it doesn’t move out or the door is jammed they will let you out the back. That is controllable. However if you are delayed because the runway is under 2ft of snow from a sudden unexpected blizzard or there is gushing water because of an unexpected rain storm (these happen all the time down here in South Florida) they will not compensate because it is not their fault. They shouldn’t have to either.

    *Are you really complaining that an airline doesn’t overbook? I mean seriously, I thought the point of flying was to get somewhere fast… Unless you are trying to scam the system there is no reason to be upset about this.

    *From a business stand point vouchers are great. From a consumer stand point they may not be because you may forget to use them or you may lose them. If you do that is your fault, not JetBlue’s.

    I have not flown JetBlue since Dec. 26th and recieved an apology email from them today. I was not even affected and they were making an effort to apologize, which I feel is the right thing. Especially since none of the local news outlets mentioned anything close to an apology.

    I am honestly 100% satisfied with JetBlue and always have been, they have never let me down and have always had the friendliest staff.

    I guess I’m not cynical enough to understand the counterpoint or merit of this post.

  4. MeOhMy says:

    Even if it’s less than ideal, it’s 1000x more than what other larger airlines are doing.

    “Sorry about the delay…here’s a bag of reproductive organs for you to munch on. Hope you’ll fly with us again.”

  5. zl9600 says:

    I’m an Apple fanboy, so I guess I shouldn’t raise my eyebrows when I see other people lovingly surround their favorite (insert name here).

    I have flown JetBlue a few times and found their airline refreshingly different. And on time. And all of that.

    That said, this ‘customer rights’ is a sham, and I said it in response to Ben’s post earlier this week after he said “we’ll still fly jetblue”, which to me was an admission that people have been had by this PR stunt.

    Frank and contrite the CEO was. However, their ‘action plan’ didn’t even address what the Wall ST. Journal reported was really an big goof on their part: JFK was ready to take them off their planes… as soon as JetBlue asked. However, JetBlue did not EVEN ASK until 3pm, some 7 hours after some planes were on the tarmac.

    Like Apple fans, you jetblue fans are prone to following the corporate-speak. Just don’t get caught on the tarmac, because 9/10ths of this cute policy won’t hold ground.

    What would hold ground and have teeth is a passenger rights bill being circulated through the Senate. I’m no fan of big brother stepping in, but the FAA is to blame, the airlines are to blame, and pretty much nobody has any interest in fixing things for the one group that SHOULD matter: Passengers.

  6. shoegazer says:

    Jetblue sounds very much an American clone of RyanAir, a European low-cost airline with a populist, outspoken CEO who claims to champion “passengers rights”. Like Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary, I have no doubt David Neeleman likes the attention and praise lavished on him from consumer groups. Sadly, like O’Leary I suspect the reality is far from the spin.

    Ryanair’s track record is spotty at best; flights get delayed, people get charged for things you would take for granted at one of the majors (ANY checkin baggage attracts a fee!). I only fly it for quick weekend getaways, and I would NOT trust them with any of my luggage. The airline industry has a long way to go before it earns any trust from the “self loading freight” it supposedly serves. This is a step in the right direction, but a better fix would be to put some teeth into actual regulation: let airlines go bust, renew licenses every year based on performance, and put some actual damned passengers on review boards. Maybe then they’ll actually care.

  7. jaya says:

    only fly it for quick weekend getaways, and I would NOT trust them with any of my luggage. The airline industry has a long way to go before it earns any trust from the “self loading freight” it supposedly serves. This is a step in the right direction, but a better fix would be to put some teeth into actual regulation: let airlines go bust, renew licenses every year based on performance, and put some actual damned passengers on review boards. Maybe then they’ll actually care.

  8. SexCpotatoes says:

    Fuck all that! I’m growing wings!

  9. mad_oak says:

    I need some Metamucil for my “Controllable Irregularity”

  10. faust1200 says:

    The fact they admitted error is monumental. The fact they are doing something about it is a miracle. Now you are complaining their new cash for f’ups policy isn’t as magical as you thought? If they handed out cash every time there was a slight snag they would be out of business in a week. I know air-travel sucks nowadays but does everyone need to turn into a whiney-ass bitch about it? If they had admitted nothing there would be no negative story right here right now. It seems like Consumerist articles are becoming less and less substantive. Why don’t you do what the news agencies do on slow news-days? Go swab public places for fecal material.

  11. wasylm says:

    How can you possibly find a way to bash them for offering $1000 to passengers on overbooked flights? You claim it’s a red herring because they rarely actually overbook flights, but isn’t that the entire point? If they never overbook a flight, the customer is the winner, not JetBlue because they saved $1000. It’s not some kind of bonus prize you win because you get lucky and your flight is overbooked, it’s to apologize if it ever does happen, and if they can keep it from happening 100% of the time, then no apology is necessary. Isn’t that what you want as a customer, service that doesn’t require an apology?

  12. facted says:

    @shoegazer: Jetblue’s customer service is far from spotty, unlikey RyanAir’s. They’ve actually won the CondeNast Domestic Airline Customer Service award 4 or 5 times in a row.

    As for the comment about charging for everything, that’s kinda funny as well. Jetblue still offers free live tv, free bag checking, free headphones, free soda and chips on their flights. There aren’t any other airlines that offer those, as far as I’m aware. Heck, no one even offers free chips anymore…

    A perfect example of the difference between Delta and JetBlue for example:

    jetblue’s first ever “emergency” was when a plane skidded off the runway in Buffalo I believe it was. Jetblue offered the passengers vouchers for a free flight. Delta had a similar mishap last week. Not only did they not offer a free flight, they barely apologized!!!

    Let’s face it: they had a bad event. They’re trying to make up for it. Cut them some slack.
    Why is everyone trying to bring JetBlue down before looking at the other airlines.

  13. mullenite says:

    @zl9600: I think that would be considered a “Controllable Irregularity” and therefore was covered by the plan.

    @shoegazer: JetBlue has a better reputation than most other US Domestic airlines, they are also the only airline who has apologized for delays and explained why the flight was delayed. This was before all the happened as well.

  14. John Stracke says:

    @Troy F.:

    “Sorry about the delay…here’s a bag of reproductive organs for you to munch on”

    “Hey! Those are my reproductive organs! Where’d you get those?”

    “It’s a new policy, ma’am. To better serve our customers, all Fubair flight crews are taking correspondence courses in surgery. For your comfort, when a plane is delayed on the runway, anesthetics are introduced into the cabin atmosphere, and the flight crew works on its homework.”

  15. Kos says:


    Damn you Mad Oak, you stole my line.

  16. r3m0t says:

    “In all of 2006, only 126 jetBlue customers were ever denied boarding.”

    Damn them! They should start overbooking so that the customers can earn money!

    No, wait, that isn’t it at all…

    ‘But they’ll ONLY pay if the cause of the delay is “due to a Controllable Irregularity.” What’s a controllable irregularity? They’re not saying.’

    Have you asked them yet? (Nicely?)

  17. cindel says:

    I don’t get all the Jetblue hate; at least they’re trying to do something unlike some say….UNITED!

    Did they ever get around to returning the $3000? Yep, didn’t think so.

  18. radiofree says:

    You need to travel by air from one place to another, and you travel coach because, well, that’s who you are.

    Here are your choices:

    US Air/America West

    Can someone tell me please how jetBlue isn’t the best of that lot?

    I will fly jB whenever I can. They are much better than the rest.

  19. I don’t see that this post adds any value except to play devil’s advocate unnecessarily.

    What is the post really trying to accomplish? Saying that you aren’t guaranteed to score an extra $1000 in your pocket because JetBlue doesn’t overbook is a ludicrous reason for claiming that their apology “isn’t enough.” What, are you trying to squeeze money out of them?

  20. Funklord says:

    Gotta agree with most here–Jet Blue wins because they actually apologized and at least made an effort (even if just token) to compensate their customers. I flew Delta from JFK to Seattle last Friday. It took a mere 22 hours to complete my travel. I arrived at 7:30 AM for an 8:30 flight, then spent 6 hours in line waiting to check my bags. Delta had a line of 5-600 people and a grand total of no more than 3 people working behind the counter all day. I saw two Delta employees asked for their name and ID numbers immediately hide their ID tags and tell customers, “I don’t have a name.”

    I stood in line with people who had been trying to fly out for 2 days. My very pregnant wife was not happy with 6 hours of standing and waiting. Funny, Delta doesn’t seem to have offered any sort of apology. Will I fly Delta ever again? No.

  21. Mark Ashley says:

    Look, the service onboard jetBlue is good, yes. But the widely-hyped “bill of rights” that the company just passed isn’t the Second Coming. The media have just oohed and ahhed as if this “bill of rights” is a major step forward. It’s not. It’s loopholes and vouchers.

    “Controllable Irregularity” is the biggest copout, and they aren’t (yet?) detailing what that term means. Don’t be so quick to assume that YOU know what it means, either. See here.

    Let’s say a pilot who’s supposed to fly from Syracuse to New York and then on to Fort Lauderdale gets stuck in Syracuse because of a snow storm. As a result, the New York to Fort Lauderdale flight is delayed, even though the weather in NYC is perfect. So is that a weather-related delay? For some airlines, the answer has been YES. If the blame can be put on the weather, the passenger gets nothing.

  22. superbmtsub says:

    Nothing wrong in the wording cuz they’re required for a corporation to avoid needless litigation from people with too much time on their hands.

    There’s always a unique few who live off petty lawsuits instead of accepting the consideration offer (good in some cases and crappy in others). The legal writing is a precautionary move for the survival of the company. Will JetBlue remain as the sole champion in the US Air transport industry? At this rate, possibly.

  23. itchy feet says:

    For MOST airlines, that’s a weather-related delay.

    JetBlue isn’t going to transform this messed-up industry on its own. But at least it’s doing more than telling its customers to get bent.

    Hey wait! That’s a transformation right there!

    What they’ve done is raised the bar so that when United dumps passengers, AirTran sends thousands of bags to Uzbekistan and Northwest and Delta continue to generally suck, we can demand more than a shoulder shrug from them.

    I’ve never flown JetBlue, but I appreciate even their flawed approach to a mea culpa.

    (And that overbooking thing? Yeah, the post is just wrong about that.)

  24. SteveXo says:

    You’re right Mark, why should we accept some incremental improvement when we could bitch that the airline industry isn’t completely scrapped and replaced with perfect corporations and policies which guarantee you free money anytime you are delayed for any reason whatsoever. I applaud you for pointing out that small improvements are essentially worthless and echo your sentiment that companies shouldn’t bother with trying to improve unless they can solve every single problem in one fell swoop.

    I, for one, am crushed each time I am not booted from my purchased flight… I mean, it’s total crap that they dangle that $1000 out there and then snatch it away as they smugly honor my reservation. Don’t they know what I could have gotten with that $1000?

  25. zingbot says:

    I think we have a fanboy community developing here.

    I’m curious whether any of the people left on the tarmac at JFK last week would be included in that.

  26. mullenite says:

    @Mark Ashley: Can you control the weather? I don’t think it falls in to the controllable category personally. I have been on flights where something similar happened. Flying from Ft. Lauderdale to Newark my flight was delayed because the plane was held up earlier in the day during a flight out of Ft. Myers. They apologized and I expected nothing more from them. Air travel isn’t perfect, I know that. I schedule my flights so that if they are delayed it won’t really affect me.

    The only way around this would be for the airline to step up their fleet so that planes only fly one route for the entire day, this is not good for us the passengers because while we may be on time, we will also be paying a lot more for our tickets.

  27. mullenite says:

    @zingbot: Myself, and everyone I know who has ever flown JetBlue feels let down when they fly another airline. I don’t think being stuck on the tarmac once would change my loyalty to them. Possibly if it was their first or second flight with them it would be different but when you consider there are over 100 people on the flight it would be safe to say that not all would be turned off.

  28. royal72 says:

    couldn’t help myself, i just sent them a “give compliments” message on their site…

    “i just wanted to say congratulations to your legal team for coming up with, ‘due to a controllable irregularity.’ it’s absolutely brilliant! i will be using that on monday for when i show up late to work for sure!
    thank you so much,

  29. formergr says:

    @mullenite: Seriously? I’ve had lots of emails from United and American apologizing for a delay, some as little as 2 hours. I don’t know if that’s because I’m a member of each airline’s freq flyer program, but I’ve gotten them. Do I still think those two airlines suck? Absolutely. But it’s not at all accurate to say that JetBlue is the first airline ever to:
    1) apologize for a delay– wrong as noted

    2) offer compensation vouchers for non-weather related irregular operations– again wrong, UA and AA have done this plenty for me.

  30. capstinence says:

    “2) offer compensation vouchers for non-weather related irregular operations– again wrong, UA and AA have done this plenty for me.”

    I’d just like for an airline to give a voucher that is at least redeemable on their own web site. I received a $200 voucher from Delta and found a $200 flight home on their web site (the official Delta site, not Expedia or Hotwire or anyone else). Yet, I had to drive all the way to the airport to purchase a ticket with the voucher, only to be told the cheapest fair was $450 (over twice the amount their own web site quoted). Would they honor the price? Of course not. So, no more Delta for me.

  31. formergr says:

    capstinence, I totally hear you on that one. United finally overhauled their website this year enough that you can at least sometimes redeem customer service vouchers online. I swear I almost fell out of my chair when I hit “Submit” and it actually worked.

  32. mullenite says:

    @formergr: I never said they were the first ever to do those things, I said they were the only ones who have done so for me.